Executive summary:

Arizona State University's Graduate Program for Teachers of High School Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science


The United States has a severe shortage of qualified high school physics teachers, which the teacher preparation pipeline shows no prospects of solving soon. The only feasible way toward a rapid solution of this problem is to upgrade the qualifications of teachers who are already in the classroom. To that end, with years of grant support from the National Science Foundation, Arizona State University created a comprehensive graduate program for professional development of in-service teachers of physics, chemistry, and physical science. As the only program of its kind, it has attracted a large number of eager teachers from all over the nation.

The ASU “MNS for teachers” was founded in 2000 by David Hestenes. Teachers in the program can earn a Master of Natural Science (MNS) degree. The MNS program has the following features that make it a unique national resource:


Impact of Modeling Instruction and the MNS.

As of 2014, of the 27,000 high school physics teachers across the nation, 3000 have participated in the Modeling Instruction Program. An increasing number of teachers have participated at sites nationwide other than ASU since 2005, when the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA) was organized by teachers to ensure sustainability of Modeling Instruction.

Most teachers have maintained contact with the program, and many have become leaders of science education reform in their schools and school districts. Thus the Modeling Instruction Program has created a nationwide community of teachers committed to science education reform. The MNS program maintains support for this community and draws on it for leadership and recruitment of new teachers.

            Seventy percent of all high school physics teachers are crossovers from other disciplines. Most of them get no local help in ‘retooling’ to teach physics. The MNS is by far the most comprehensive graduate program for science teachers in the nation, providing essential professional development for new physics teachers who have crossed over from teaching other sciences or from professional careers in engineering and physics. Participants give the program high marks for providing them with the confidence and support to do a good job of teaching.

            While the majority of MNS participants are crossover teachers, many others enter the program to raise their content knowledge and pedagogical skills above the norm. Indeed, 90% cite the desire to become a better teacher as their chief reason for participating.

In summer 2014, 70 high school teachers participated at ASU, including 12 enrolled in the MNS degree program. Most teachers already have a masters degree, typically in education; hence, they take MNS courses strictly for professional development and personal satisfaction.


The value of the program is summarized in this quote from the May 2005 report of the North Central Accreditation Academic Program Review Committee:


"One of the important ways that ASU is currently elevating science education in Arizona is its unique Master of Natural Science (MNS) program for in-service teachers. There appears to be no comparable program at any other university in the United States, and it stands as an exemplary model of how physics departments can improve high school physics education. Unfortunately, this program is threatened with termination by the end of the NSF grant which supported teachers during their course period at ASU. The Review Committee believes that it is essential for ASU to continue this invaluable program..."


Professor Robert Culbertson assumed leadership of the MNS degree program in 2005. Jane Jackson (B.S. 1965 and Ph.D. 1970, in physics at ASU) contributes to development of the program and assists teachers and faculty who participate. Together they pursue funding opportunities to support teachers.

The web site is